Students engage in legal battle amid Covid-19 rent strike

By Lara Gibbs BA Chinese (Modern and Classical)

SOAS students at Dinwiddy House began a rent strike in April withholding around £1,500 of rent. Despite many students having left early when forced to return home due to Covid-19, accommodation provider Sanctuary Students is still requesting rent payment in full. This has resulted in an ongoing legal battle.

Many students have received arrears letters, and additionally Sanctuary Students has allegedly brought in debt collection services. With the threat of legal sanctions, lawyers have been working pro-bono on behalf of students involved. According to Oscar Ward, SOAS Student Union Accommodation Officer, Sanctuary Students has since been instructed to only communicate with students through lawyers. Ward also claims that Sanctuary Students has at no point acknowledged the rent strike.  

“The consensus amongst students is one of ‘sheer exhaustion’. “

Ward described the current period as quieter and slower while lawyers examine Sanctuary Students’ contracts. Ward feels Sanctuary Students are deliberately dragging out the process. He added that the consensus amongst students is one of ‘sheer exhaustion.’ A former Dinwiddy resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, described feeling deeply disappointed with Sanctuary Students’ handling of the situation, saying ‘I feel let down by Sanctuary Students.’ The student explained that many students cannot afford to pay the final instalment of rent and added that they haven’t heard any news of progress on the legal front.  

Sanctuary Students manages accommodation across England and Scotland for over 11,500 students. Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s lockdown announcement in March, many student accommodation providers have granted rent amnesty. As of yet, Sanctuary Students have made no announcement of granting rent amnesty or even reducing rent.

This is not the first rent strike carried out by SOAS students. According to the SOAS Student Union, over 150 residents of Paul Robeson and Dinwiddy House withheld the final instalment of their rent in 2015. This was in protest against conditions at the halls, such as rodent and cockroach infestations. In this case, the students won monetary compensation.

Sanctuary Students have chosen not to comment on the publication of this article. 

Photo Caption: Dinwiddy House is a SOAS-only accommodation owned by Sanctuary Students. Credit: Sanctuary Students.

Post Author: The SOAS Spirit

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